In a June 6 opinion piece for the Queens Chronicle, titled “On 98th Street, we say ‘No way to QueensWay,’” Neil Gianelli shared his opinion of the proposed QueensWay project.
To bolster his (negative) opinion of the project, he cites an 11-year-old study by Professor Noelwah Netusil of Reed College in Portland, Ore. He ignores multiple other studies of trails and urban parks more comparable to the QueensWay, including several in New York, does not make plain Professor Netusil’s findings, and fails to grasp the broader economic development potential of the QueensWay for hundreds of thousands of residents in central Queens, the entire borough and city.
First, about that Portland study: Dr. Netusil found that proximity to a regional trail system running through industrial areas depressed property values immediately adjacent to the trail by about 6.8 percent. She stated both in that paper and subsequently that her result might very well be a function of the type of trails studied, how distance from the trail was measured, and the kinds of properties through which the trail passed, among other factors. Moreover, Dr. Netusil found that although property values immediately adjacent to the trail dipped, property value elsewhere in the surrounding neighborhoods increased.
I write as the director of a team of economic development and real estate consultants at HR&A Advisors that has been retained by the Trust for Public Land to examine a range of potential impacts of building the QueensWay. We have estimated that, in contrast to the types of trails examined by Dr. Netusil, the QueensWay is likely to increase residential values along its path modestly. We suggest that the increment in value could range from 1 to 7 percent. We believe that the higher end of that range is likely to be seen for properties closer to the Queensway and in the area south of Forest Park.
Our estimates are based on review of literature, our own long experience analyzing the economic impact of public investments and advising on the feasibility of new urban open space creation, and review of New York City-specific data. The literature includes some of the following studies:
• A 2007 study of 10,000 homes in San Antonio, Texas, conducted by Temple University professors, found that homes in neighborhoods with greenbelts (or greenways): “add about four percent to value.”
• A study conducted by the Seattle Engineering Department of residents and real estate agents on or near the Burke-Gilman Trail in metropolitan Seattle found that multi-use trails are an amenity that helps sell homes, increase property values, and improve the quality of life. The study furthermore concluded that on average, property immediately adjacent to the trail is slightly easier to sell, and property near the trail sells for 6 percent or more.
• A survey of residents adjacent to trails in Metro Denver, conducted by the Conservation Fund and the Colorado State Parks Trails Program, found that the effect of neighboring trails was beneficial rather than detrimental.
Our own experience both here in New York City, and in other dense American cities suggests that well-designed, well-maintained linear parks — a better characterization of what the QueensWay is intended to be than a “trail” — are highly likely to create modest, but significant property value in residential areas. Local examples include the High Line, where we have shown the increment in value to be about 6 percent vis-a-vis other more transit-accessible areas of Chelsea, and Hudson River Park. Likewise, values of homes in Atlanta adjacent to the BeltLine have appreciated relative to homes elsewhere in the same neighborhoods; a 2008 paper out of Georgia Tech suggests that those values began to increase once it was clear that the BeltLine was likely to become a reality (i.e. before it had actually been built).
Dr. Netusil herself has recently noted that her results cannot be used to predict the probable results in Queens, and that context matters. Along the QueensWay, the context is: a linear urban park built through a residential neighborhood in New York City, akin to other such parks built in the city and in other similar cities. Given that context, it is clearly more likely that positive value will accrue than not.
The QueensWay can be a 21st-century park for a 21st-century Queens: increasing access to open space for underserved neighborhoods, creating alternative transportation options, showcasing the borough’s diverse cultures and businesses, and demonstrating a new model for park partnerships in moderate- and middle-income neighborhoods.
Candace P. Damon is vice chairwoman of HR&A Advisors.